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Hello everyone,
This year's main event is over. For me it was one of most unpredictable, exciting and dramatic competitions I have ever seen. Therefore, we will mostly focus on Open Sicilians from the Olympiad in Batumi. In my opinion, this time the Najdorf games are especially important from a theoretical point of view.

Download PGN of October ’18 Open Sicilian games

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Kan 5.Bd3 Bc5 6.Nb3 Be7 7.Qg4 g6 [B42]

Our first game, Blomqvist, E - Smirin, I, is a good illustration of Black's strategic problems in a relatively common line that was covered on a few previous occasions. In the position after 11...b4:

Erik employed an interesting plan, starting with 12.Nd1!?, and achieved a better position. However, the premature 17.Nc4?! allowed Ilya to get rid of his weak d6-pawn and equalize. After this both players were playing well, so the game was balanced up till 26...Qe7? This mistake put GM Smirin in big danger of losing, but in the end the more experienced player even got the full point.

Taimanov 6.Be3 a6 7.f4 b5 [B48]

In the only game here that wasn't played in Batumi, Kryvoruchko, Y - Moranda, W, White chose the relatively rare setup with 6.Be3 a6 7.f4:

but GM Moranda reacted well and easily solved all of his problems. Moreover, the unsuccessful innovation 11.Bd4? quickly put White in a difficult position. After this moment Yurij defended very well, but had Black not played 17...Bc5? it would be difficult to achieve a draw.

Even though Yurij's play can definitely be improved, the mix of Be3 and f4 shouldn't bother Taimanov players.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f3 Nxd4 [B67]

The next game, Rizouk, A - Bacrot, E, saw the players enter a relatively uncommon line of the Rauzer with an early 9...Nxd4!?:

It appears that Aimen's way of handling the position with 12.Be3 was somewhat slow, so after 12...h5! Black managed to slow White's q-side play down and he soon seized the initiative. Despite the inaccurate 18...Qc7?! Etienne's victory in this game is well deserved.

Anyway, it looks like 9...Nxd4!? is at least as attractive as the more common moves, such are 9...h6 or 9...Be7.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Be7 9.f4 Bd7 10.Nf3 b5 [B69]

The game Wei, Yi - Stocek, J can surprisingly be considered an opening disaster. It started with 13.g3:

which was strongly met by 13...b4!, and GM Stocek obtained an excellent position. However, the really critical moment came a few moves later, when 17.Qd5? quickly led White into a hopeless position. I guess that such a convincing victory could definitely attract more Rauzer fans.

Najdorf 6.h3 Nc6 7.g4 g6 [B90]

The game Li, Chao - Firouzja, A saw Black employ the relatively fresh idea 8...Nxd4!?:

followed by the decent novelty 11...e5! that quickly led to equality. Moreover, later Alireza even missed a few winning chances, so the game ended in a draw after some further interesting play. At the moment the ball is definitely in White's court in this line.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Nd5, 12.0-0-0 [B90]

The next game, Maghsoodloo, P - Kulatos, K, saw another interesting theoretical discussion in one of the most fashionable lines, with a pawn sacrifice on d5. In the well-known position after 15...Qc7:

White came up with the natural novelty 16.Bc4!? Kaido's unsuccessful reaction 17...0-0? quickly led Black into a dicey position, but, even so, Parham's energetic and consistent play is still impressive.

I expect further practical tests of 16.Bc4, although 17...Kf8! is an obvious improvement.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Nd5, 12.Be2 [B90]

The same theoretical line occurred in Leko, P - Vachier Lagrave, M, where Peter managed to surprise his very experienced opponent with the relatively fresh idea 13.0-0-0!?:

The surprise effect worked well, so after 13...0-0?! 14.g4! White quickly developed a powerful attack. The first critical moment came on move 20 when Peter missed 20.Rxh5!, which could have won on the spot. The further spectacular play was full of mutual mistakes, and eventually Maxime took his chances and got a full point.

Well, I am pretty sure we gonna see more tests of 13.0-0-0!? soon. At the moment 13...b5!? looks critical.

Najdorf 6.Be2 e5 7.Nf3 [B92]

In the last game, Vachier Lagrave, M - Bellahcene, B, the higher-rated player chose a relatively quiet line where he had solid experience as Black. In the position after 13.Nd2:

Black came up with the natural novelty 13...0-0 and gained acceptable play. Moreover, a few moves later Maxime went astray with 17.Ned2? and got into big trouble. White was struggling hard for a draw till move 32, when Bilil returned the favor with 32...Rc8? Even after that Black definitely shouldn't lose the game, but 54...Rxf5?? eventually turned the tables.

See you next month, Michael

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